Q&A: Redlands child nutrition staff discuss school lunches 

By KENDRA BURDICK and MIYAH SANBORN

The quality of school lunches has been a subject of debate for districts around the country for many years and students have often expressed their dislike for them. Lunch distribution has posed many questions such as: Are they substantial for students? Are schools providing enough food to get students through the day?

At Redlands East Valley High School, there are baskets of fruits that students can have easy access to after they grab the rest of their meal. These fruits play a vital role in a healthy diet. (KENDRA BURDICK/ Ethic News photo)

In recent years, there has been a push to have healthier food in schools. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was designed to improve children’s health by reducing childhood obesity rates.

Despite the intentions of this legislation, many schools still serve unhealthy food to their students. A 2020 study, Impact Of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act On Obesity Trends, by the Harvard School of Public Health found that two-thirds of school districts serving lunches below the federal guidelines.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires that lunches served in schools must be improved and made healthier. 

To provide further insight on the substantiality of school lunches and how they are prepared, an interview with Josie Perez was held. Perez is the nutritionist at Redlands Unified School District. 

Is the food sustainable for a growing teenager? 

As the registered dietician for the school district, we go by the USDA standards to what we feed our kiddos, and our students at schools, the high schools, middle schools and elementary school level. So the amount of food in terms of what is provided by the USDA, we make sure we hit that and that if not go above that.

How do you respond to any negative comments about the food? 

In the lunch room at Redlands East Valley High School, there is a stack of empty cardboard containers that are no longer being used. Instead they are replaced by more plastic containers to hold the food in. (KENDRA BURDICK/ Ethic News photo)

I would have to say, I listen to it and we try to make modifications as we go along. I know like yesterday I got a call from a parent. She was concerned because her child felt that the school meals weren’t good and they didn’t like them. And I was like ‘oh, I’m sorry.’ I wanted that feedback because the way I see it, the more feedback I get from the students, I can make those changes on the next menu that comes out. It’s very helpful in seeing what you guys like or don’t like, what we think you might like versus the reality of what you really like.

Are there any meals served that you feel are distasteful? 

No, we try our best to pick the items we put on the menu as a team, and it’s not my own personal choice. We discuss anything new to be tested and see ‘ok, does this work? Will it not work?’ So, I’m proud of the choices we try to make for our district and if what we think doesn’t work we try to switch it out the next time around and find something more appropriate for the kids.

Do you think that the food served has enough culture involved? 

I try to balance that out when we can on the menu. We try to do things like a little Italian here, Chinese, do American. I wish we could get a little more ethnic diverse food, but that’s something that we can grow into time as we are still getting back into having our kitchens open. But if there are any ideas or suggestions of what students would like to have, we would be more open to hearing it and seeing if it’s something we could possibly make.

Two items on the school’s menu that are popular amongst the students are the pepperoni pizza and the spicy chicken sandwich, often served with chocolate milk. (KENDRA BURDICK/ Ethic News photo)

Would you eat some of the school lunches? 

Yes. I actually eat some of the school lunches, I try to go to schools and see how the sites are cooking and try it there and see ok “would I eat this? Are the kids eating this?’ I do try the food. 

What is the hardest thing about your job? 

I mean every job is hard but it’s just figuring out how to solve the problems and I know, like food choices and flavors, I’m not going to please everyone. But, we try our best to reach the mainstream. But, yeah, I think developing the menu can be hard at times. But, it’s actually really rewarding too because it’s interesting to see what the kids like and don’t like. 

How much input do you have on the menu selection? 

I have a good amount, but as I said, I share it with our department team. Here we have a team of three field specialists and then also a central kitchen lead where we evaluate products. We evaluate and taste to see if this is a good product, if we want to bring it in or not, so it’s definitely a team effort in siting what is purchased. 

To discuss some common questions, an interview was conducted with Denise Sathda. Sathda is a child nutritional services worker at Redlands East Valley High School and is responsible for school meal preperation. 

How many students get served the school lunch everyday? 

Between 850-900. 

How do you respond to the negative comments? 

Well, it depends on what negative comments, like if they say ‘oh it’s cold’ we say well I’m sorry you know it happens. And if it’s about the food you know it’s what they sent us you should be grateful, this is not a restaurant, you know we try to do our best with what they give us.

Are the ingredients in the food fresh? 

For the salads, we have the fresh spinach, the lettuce, the tomatoes, the cucumber. And the fruits we get daily also, all the fruits, the veggies.

What is the hardest thing about your job? 

We have many things to cook like everyday. Every once in a while, they will change the menu. So, we’re going to be changing the menu in October to see what the new menu is. We have the orange chicken and the cheeseburgers, we don’t just put things in the oven. We need to, you know, cook them, put together the sauce, the rice. The rice takes like two hours for example, so it depends on the menu. Some days are easier than others.


For more information on nutrition and food services at RUSD, visit https://rusdnutrition.org/.

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